A Glimpse at Tradition

After a day of teaching, I had an opportunity to watch a theatre performance called The Matsuri Okinawa. Okinawa has a complicated history that I will not pretend to be an expert on, but in short, it was once an independent Kingdom of the Ryukyu people. Because of its strategic location in the Pacific Ocean, during several wars, the island was occupied, annexed, and thousands of civilians suffered. This rocky history meant that Okinawa developed a culture and set of traditions vastly different from mainland Japan. The performance I saw was created to educate and inspire viewers about the uniqueness of the island and help keep traditional spirits alive.

When I arrived at the National Theatre Okinawa I found my seat near the front of the stage. What followed was an entertaining 1 hour performance highlighting Okinawa’s traditional dances, songs, history, and martial arts. The images below try to capture the magic of the performance, but don’t do nearly enough justice.

Ryukyuan Dance (Yotsutake) featuring vibrant costumes and large headdresses. Considered the most elegant of the traditional dances
A woolly Shishimai lion surprised the crowd and tried to put the heads of audience members in its mouth.
The Dragon God Dance
Bojutsu- the art of fighting with a staff. This martial art became popular during the time weapons were forbidden
Ryukyuan drumming was powerful yet soothing

I enjoyed watching the performance, especially the liveliness of the Shishimai lions and hearing the beat of the many drums. I hope that foreigners will continue to watch this show because it plays an important role in preserving the heart of Okinawan culture and history.

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